Daoist Music

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Daoist Music
Classification and Forms of Daoist Music
Vocal Music
Instrumental Music
Musical Instruments
Schools of Daoist Music
Music of the Orthodox Oneness Tradition
Music of the Complete Perfection Tradition
Compilations of Daoist Music Scores
The Ritual of Jade Tunes
The Daoist Musical Scores Composed by Imperial Order during the Great Ming Dynasty
The Orthodox Rhythm of the Complete Perfection Tradition
Daoist Music of Different Places
The White Cloud Temple, Beijing Suzhou Mt Longhu
Mt Wudang Mt Mao Shanghai
Mt Lao Shanxi Plain Sichuan
The Northeast Taiwan Hong Kong


Daoist music, or Daoist Ritual Music( 道場音樂 Daochang Yinyue ), is the music used in the Daoist activities of Fasts and Offerings ( 齋醮 Zhaijiao ). Its formation and development are closely related to the ancient cult music and the popular music of various regions, so it is religious music with Chinese characteristics and a major part of the Chinese traditional music culture.


Daoist music originates from Shamans ( 巫 Wu ) and Invocators ( 祝 Zhu ), and inherits the tradition that "shamans make spirits descend by singing and dancing". Simultaneously, Daoism attaches importance to prayer cult, i.e. the so-called Altar Offerings ( 壇醮 Tanjiao ). It continually absorbs music from the rites held in imperial temples, as well as music from popular cults to enrich its own religious activities. Thus the Daoist music with the expression of immortalist belief as its core, was gradually formed. Almost all the ritual offerings are accompanied by music. Daoist music has become one of the traditional ways of preaching.

Content and characteristics

Though Daoist music has the expression of immortalist belief as its main content, it did not develop independently. During the process of its development, many social aspects, especially court music and local popular music, have influenced it. Therefore, Daoist music has three major characteristics. Firstly, Daoist music is closely associated with rituals of fasts and offerings and is heavily tinged with religious characteristics. Secondly, since those worshiped are mostly heavenly spirits such as the Emperor of Heaven ( 天帝 Tiandi ), and the music is solemn and respectful, Daoist music absorbs many rhythms and tunes from the cult music of the court. Thirdly, due to the wide penetration of Daoism among the people and the mixing of Daoist music and local music in various places over a long time, to a certain extent Daoist music has features of traditional popular music and local music.

General Outline of Daoist Music

As part of Daoist culture, Daoist music has been flourishing and developing hand in hand with Daoism and Daoist culture.

During its lengthy evolution, Daoist music reflects its cultural characteristics in the following three aspects: first, it retains the features of ancient Chinese music. Ever since its formation, Daoist music has been supported and patronized by the imperial authority, restricted by Daoist systems and rules, and has hardly been affected by social upheavals, which has enabled it to develop independently and continuously. In the meantime, Daoist music is transmitted orally and personally through generations and inherited in secret, especially for the Complete Perfection Tradition ( 全真道 Quanzhen Dao ). Consequently, it has kept the ancient traditional music alive till nowadays. Second, Daoist music has a close relationship with national music and folk music. The history of its evolution is a history of enriching itself through unceasingly absorbing and mixing the elements of national music and folk music. Daoist music is a kind of religious music that bears the traits of Chinese local music. For example, the same tune in the same ritual and an actor's rendering of the tunes in various places bear the qualities of local music, especially of local operas and folk songs; the same scripture in the same ritual appears different when set to music with local tunes of various places. Third, Daoist music interacts and inter-assimilates with Buddhist music. The mutual influence and assimilation between Buddhism and Taoism over hundreds of years has resulted in common elements in the ritual music of the two religions. Thus the likeness between Daoist and Buddhist music is evident in the Daoist music of rituals such as the Recitation of Holy Scriptures ( 誦經 Songjing ) and Fasts and Offerings ( 齋醮 Zhaijiao ).

The meaning, principles and character of Daoist music conform to Daoist doctrines, rules and thought. The functions of Daoist music, in its religious aspect, consists in spreading doctrines and purifying people, while in its practical aspect, consists in respecting the gods and entertaining men. Daoist music has come into being out of reverence for Daoist gods, faith in Daoist doctrines and advocacy of Daoist rules, so it usually pursues grave and solemn tastes and a style in accordance with Daoist thoughts, so as to harmonize with the specific atmosphere of religious rituals. Corresponding with the fixed procedure of Daoist rituals-----"inviting gods, paying homage to gods, rewarding gods" -- in Daoist music, there are odes eulogizing the Three Pristine Ones ( 三清 Sanqing ) and other gods, music representing the floating and flying of gods being summoned, solemn and mighty tunes signifying exorcism, and songs of joy in the clouds describing the wonderful fairyland. The reverence of gods can be regarded as the core principle of Daoist music. But on the other hand, Daoist rituals not only serve all sorts of divinities, but also cater to the common people. Therefore, Daoist music has the function of amusement as well. For instance, some tunes known as "Yin tones" and "Lively Tunes ( 耍曲 Shuaqu )" are played or sung for the ordinary people in the Ritual Space ( 道場 Daochang ) in order to inspire the participants' feelings of religious aestheticism and arouse their interest in participating in the ritual.

Daoist music also has local features. Some of the performers of Daoist music are Daoist priests who live in the temples or those who live among the common people; therefore, ritual music absorbs the elements, materials, patterns, structures and acting habits of local folk music. Meanwhile, since the audience of Daoist music includes the local Daoist priests and people, in order to make the music better accepted and arouse the people's consciousness of participation, the Daoist music of different places usually assimilates local music.